Saturday, May 30, 2009

Philadelphia Inquirer hires 'torture memo' author John Yoo

Jonathan Berr
NYT/May 13, 2009

The liberal blogosphere has been in a tizzy over the Philadelphia Inquirer's hiring of John Yoo, the author of the Bush administration's so-called "torture memo," to write a column.

The hiring inspired MSNBC's Keith Olberman to award the paper's executive editor William K. Marimow and editorial page editor Harold Jackson a "bronze" in his Worst Person in the World feature. Blogger Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic magazine was even more scathing:"What can one say about the Philadelphia Inquirer's decision to hire a war criminal whose legal work was so awful in government that the Justice Department Office of Professional Responsibility had to conduct a deep and apparently damning investigation of it."

Media Matters for America discusses the story on its front page, and the Huffington Post has also weighed in on the story. Even The New York Times has taken on the story. One local blog, Philebrity, is calling for a boycott of the Inquirer.

But for readers of the Inquirer, none of this is a huge surprise.

The Inquirer, Pennsylvania's largest newspaper, has been drifting to the right ever since it was purchased by a group of local investors, led by ad man Brian Tierney, with Citizen Kane-like dreams for $515 million, along with sister tabloid the Philadelphia Daily News and associated Web properties. Tierney has long been an active Republican in overwhelmingly Democratic Philadelphia. A few years ago, he was the campaign manager for the Republican candidate for mayor.

The Inquirer made headlines -- not the good kind -- when it followed up its endorsement of Barack Obama during the presidential election with a statement from the dissenters on the editorial board endorsing rival John McCain. Newspapers usually speak with one voice. Some saw the behind-the-scenes manipulation of Tierney, something he has denied.

Though he has pledged not to interfere with editorial decisions, the paper has added quite a number of conservative-leaning columnists, including talk show host Michael Smerconish, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, and now Yoo. The former Justice Department lawyer's name was suggested by Tierney, though the final say was up to Jackson, according to The New York Times. Jackson declined to elaborate further.

"The only thing I am surprised by is the timing, since John Yoo has written for the paper since 2005," said Jackson in a brief interview.

Will Bunch, a Daily News writer, discovered early this week that Yoo was given a regular columnist position and was outraged.

"None of this is a good enough justification for awarding a column to America's top defender of such a serious human rights violation as torture -- certainly not the fact that he's now a celebrated Philadelphian," he said in his column.

What Bunch discovered was a carefully orchestrated PR stunt by Tierney to help revive his bankrupt publishing company. For now, it seems to have worked.

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